- Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise by Douglas W. Shadle
Douglas W. Shadle’s introduction to Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise begins with a compelling question: “Why do American orchestras play so many German symphonies?” (p. 1). He opens this discussion with an account of the primacy of Ludwig van Beethoven during the nineteenth century. The symphonies of Beethoven still hold a great deal of cultural capital, often linked with large-scale celebrations, commemorations, and memorializations. Shadle’s Orchestrating the Nation provides insight into how the ideological association between established German culture and burgeoning American culture influenced composers, performers, conductors, and critics during the nineteenth century, with lasting effects on the present-day musical landscape.
Shadle divides his discussion of American symphonists into pre- and post-Civil War composers. For the antebellum period, he devotes three chapters to specific composers: Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781–1861), a Bohemian immigrant that Shadle nicknames the “Hapless Wanderer”; William Henry Fry (1813–1864), the “Operatic Translator”; and George Frederick Bristow (1825–1898), the “American Stalwart.” Prior to these three chapters, Shadle dedicates a chapter, “The Launch of the Enterprise,” to describing how the United States suffered from what Laurence Buell and other scholars termed a “postcolonial anxiety” in the early nineteenth century (p. 17). Developing a musical culture was part of the process of nation building. As the pinnacle of cultural production, the symphony was considered to be the primary means for fostering new American voices, as opposed to establishing a copy of European music making. Shadle also points out that the European debate regarding descriptive or narrative symphonies (program music) also influenced the compositional output of American composers.
An important connecting persona is the music critic John Sullivan Dwight (1813–1893). In 1852, he created his own platform, Dwight’s Journal of Music, to disseminate his Germanophile attitudes regarding the musical development of the United States. After receiving positive reinforcement from Richard Pohl in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Dwight became an arbiter of taste, never investing in the idea that Americans could create anything as ideologically superior as the Germans produced. He took on all of the composers Shadle discusses in this book and rarely gave more than a pat on the head to composers trying to compete with European monuments.
Ideologically important ensembles and conductors that influenced the careers of these musicians are discussed throughout the book, including the Philharmonic Society of New York, the Germania Musical Society, the Boston Academy of Music, and later, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Philharmonic Society of New York, formed in 1842, eventually became the New York Philharmonic and made performing works by American composers part of its mission. Formed in March of 1848, the Germania Musical Society (a group of Berlin musicians) “resolved to form an egalitarian orchestra and departed for the United States ‘in order to enflame and stimulate in the hearts of these politically free people, through numerous performances of our greatest instrumental composers’ ” (p. 29). French conductor Louis Antoine Jullien (1812–1860), who arrived in New York in 1853, made choices that greatly impacted the ways in which audiences perceived symphonic music. According to Shadle, “Jullien’s orchestra provided audiences with models of cooperation and the republican value of subordinating the self to the common good” (p. 116).
The chapter “Rivalry of Nations” sheds more light on the rift between pro- and anti-German attitudes. The large number of German immigrant musicians and the prominence of German music on the concert stage were fodder for composers such as Bristow and Fry, whose works were not performed as often. Bristow considered “the Philharmonic’s neglect of its mission [to be] rooted in a toxic mixture of anti-Americanism and German chauvinism” (p. 85). Shadle points out that vitriolic articles about musical ensembles were a reflection of “the broader nativist sentiment [End Page 718] called ‘Know-Nothingism’ that was sweeping...